What is the role of the secretary?

The role of the Secretary is to support the Chair in ensuring the smooth functioning of the Management Committee.

In summary, the Secretary is responsible for:

  1. Ensuring meetings are effectively organised and minuted
  2. Maintaining effective records and administration
  3. Upholding the legal requirements of governing documents, charity law, company law etc (where relevant).
  4. Communication and correspondence

It is important to note that although the Secretary ensures that these responsibilities are met, much of the work may be delegated to paid staff or volunteers.

Given these responsibilities, the Secretary often acts as an information and reference point for the Chair and other committee members: clarifying past practice and decisions; confirming legal requirements; and retrieving relevant documentation.

Defining the role in your organisation 

What this means in practice depends on the style and size of the organisation:

Where there are no paid staff members...

...the Secretary themselves will carry out all these duties and may also take a greater role in the day-to-day administration of the organisation. This can become a time-consuming role. Some management committees have more than one person with formal responsibility for secretarial tasks (e.g. a Minutes Secretary, Correspondence Secretary and Membership Secretary). Others delegate some of the administrative responsibilities to volunteers outside of the management committee to reduce the burden.

Where there are paid staff members...

 ...many activities can be delegated (e.g. record keeping, taking minutes, filing correspondence, communication of activities etc). The Secretary then ensures that their responsibilities are met, but will have less involvement in actually carrying them out.

Each Management Committee will have its own way of doing things, and the way in which work is shared out can also depend on the skills, interests or amount of time that a person has to offer. Always ensure that the role description for your Secretary matches the current dynamics of your organisation. (see links below or click here for more on developing role descriptions).

Main responsibilities of the Secretary

The responsibilities of the Secretary of a Management Committee are outlined below:

1. Ensuring meetings are effectively organised and minuted

  • Liaising with the Chair to plan meetings
  • Receiving agenda items from committee members
  • Circulating agendas and reports
  • Taking minutes (unless there is a minutes secretary)
  • Circulating approved minutes
  • Checking that agreed actions are carried out.

More on the Secretary's role at meetings

2. Maintaining effective records and administration

  • Keeping up-to-date contact details (i.e. names, addresses and telephone numbers) for the management committee and (where relevant) ordinary members of the organisation.
  • Filing minutes and reports
  • Compiling lists of names and addresses that are useful to the organisation, including those of appropriate officials or officers of voluntary organisations.
  • Keeping a record of the organisation's activities
  • Keeping a diary of future activities

3. Upholding legal requirements

  • Acting as custodian of the organisation's governing documents 
  • Checking quorum is present at meetings
  • Ensuring elections are in line with stipulated procedures
  • Ensuring organisation's activities are in line with its objects
  • Ensuring charity and company law requirements are met (where relevant, unless there is a separate company secretary)
  • Sitting on appraisal, recruitment and disciplinary panels, as required.

More on governing documents
More on charity law
More on company law

4. Communication and correspondence

  • Responding to all committee correspondence
  • filing all committee correspondence received and copies of replies sent
  • keeping a record of any of the organisation's publications (e.g. leaflets or newsletters) and
  • reporting the activities of the organisation and future programmes to members, the press and the public (unless there is an Information or Publicity Officer).
  • Preparing a report of the organisation's activities for the year, for the Annual General Meeting. 

Use the links below to access further articles and resources which will help you understand the role of the Secretary and prepare your own role description or person specification:

The secretary's role at meetings
Characteristics of a good secretary
Role description

Company secretary

*Since April 2008, private companies are no longer required to have a Company Secretary, but Companies House needs to be informed if no Company Secretary is appointed and you must ensure this complies with your Articles of Association

If your organisation is incorporated as a limited company (e.g. Company Limited by Guarantee or a Community Interest Company), you may also have a Company Secretary*, which is different from the role of an honorary secretary. This post carries greater responsibility than an honorary secretary to ensure that the requirements of Company Law are met.

More on the Company Secretary
More on Company Law